What is Technology Doing to Us?

I highly recommend The Waking Up podcast, and particularly episode #71, in which the host, Sam Harris, holds a conversation with Tristan Harris an ethicist for design. If you’ve ever gone to Facebook to look up something quickly and then wondered how you found yourself caught in a vortex of wasted time, this conversation will surely enlighten you. Recommended listening for everyone that uses technology and especially those that build it.

From Tristan’s bio page:

Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan Harris was previously a Design Ethicist at Google and left the company to lead Time Well Spent, a non-profit movement to align technology with our humanity. Time Well Spent aims to transform the race for attention by revealing how technology hijacks our minds, and to demonstrate how better incentives and design practices will create a world that helps us spend our time well.

Tristan is an avid researcher of what persuades our minds, drawing on insights from sleight of hand magic, linguistics, persuasive technology, cult psychology and behavioral economics. Currently he is developing a framework for ethical persuasion, especially as it relates to the moral responsibility of technology companies.

His work has been featured on 60 Minutes, PBS NewsHour, The Atlantic Magazine, ReCode, TED, 1843 Economist Magazine, Wired, NYTimes, Der Spiegel, NY Review of Books, Rue89 and more.

Previously, Tristan was CEO of Apture, which Google acquired in 2011. Apture enabled millions of users to get instant, on-the-fly explanations across a vast publisher network.

Listen to the conversation as Sam and Tristan talk about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret, and other topics.

http://wakingup.libsyn.com/71-what-is-technology-doing-to-us

(or use Overcast to listen at a faster speed — that’s what I do)

Here’s a taste of what Tristan’s all about:

Pareidolia

The Best of Wikipedia is a continually updated collection of some of the most interesting Wikipedia articles. Here’s one from yesterday:

Pareidolia – Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. There have been many instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes—in 1978, a New Mexican woman found that the burn marks on a tortilla she had made appeared similar to the traditional western depiction of Jesus Christ’s face. Thousands of people came to see the framed tortilla. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia.

(via Best of Wikipedia)

Cocksure

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article, Cocksure, is about the psychology of overconfidence. In it he postulates that the brashness of experts caused the current financial crisis.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, there have been two principal explanations for why so many banks made such disastrous decisions. The first is structural. Regulators did not regulate. Institutions failed to function as they should. Rules and guidelines were either inadequate or ignored. The second explanation is that Wall Street was incompetent, that the traders and investors didn’t know enough, that they made extravagant bets without understanding the consequences. But the first wave of postmortems on the crash suggests a third possibility: that the roots of Wall Street’s crisis were not structural or cognitive so much as they were psychological.

Married to the Eiffel Tower

Married to the Eiffel tower is a BBC documentary about objectophilia, a pronounced sexual desire toward particular inanimate objects.

Erika La Tour Eiffel, like Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer – the woman who married the Berlin Wall, is an “objectum sexual”, people who fall literally in love with buildings and objects. They have sex and relationships with them; their passion as ardent as any human relationship.

The documentary subjects discuss sexual fantasy with objects throughout the documentary so use your discretion. This is part 1 of 7.

Hit play or watch Married to the Eiffel Tower on Youtube.

Part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

Subliminal Ringtones

I can’t express the level of skepticism I feel over this Discovery Channel clip claiming that subliminal ring tones can affect the way our minds think and even the way our bodies grow.

Hideto Tomabechi made headlines in June 2005 when he started selling a ring tone that he claims could make a woman’s breasts grow larger just by listening to it.

If ring tone breast enhancement smacks of gimmickry, the theories behind it are taken very seriously indeed. Over the last ten years, Dr. Tomabechi has been lecturing on how to apply his mind manipulating techniques to the threat of terrorism.

His services have been in demand ever since March 1995 when members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult released a nerve gas called sarin into the Tokyo Subway System which injured 5000 people and killed 12. Dr. Tomabechi was asked by the Japanese police to deprogram some of the brainwashed members of the cult by applying his “sound” theories.

Hit play or watch at YouTube.

For the record, there have been no scientific studies which demonstrate anything remotely close to subliminal commands influencing motives. It all boils down to the fact that subliminal messages designed to change behaviour DO NOT WORK.

(via)

Sine-wave Speech

First developed by Robert Remez and Philip Rubin at Haskins Laboratory, Sine-wave speech is a form of artificially degraded speech. Much like the “aha” moment one gets when one listens to music backwards with a suggested lyric showing, the sine-wave speech is easily recognizable once the listener has been primed.

Listening to the sine-wave speech sound again produces a very different percept of a fully intelligible spoken sentence. This dramatic change in perception is an example of “perceptual insight” or pop-out. We have argued that this form of pop-out is an example of a top-down perceptual process produced by higher-level knowledge and expectations concerning sounds that can potentially be heard as speech.

I picked up on a few of the lines without checking first, and it got easier as I went along.

Try the examples yourself at Sine-wave speech.

(via)

Teaching of Psychology

Tom Stafford, a member of the Adaptive Behaviour Research Group in the Department of Psychology at University of Sheffield, recently presented the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Association for the Teaching of Psychology at Lincoln in the UK. He talked a little bit about the priming that can occur when you load up my backmasking site. He was kind to present the topic using this slide.

Thanks Tom! you made my day.

Research Digest wrote up an interesting summary of Tom’s keynote talk.